On an Electoral Reflection

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This idea has festered in my mind long enough, so it’s time to get these thoughts of this true independent’s chest.

For about 5 weeks following the November 2016 election, a good thing happened. We heard a lot about the Electoral College – a system we learned about in school – a system we hear about every 4 years – a system many people know little about – let alone Federalist Paper No. 68 (and I say that with confidence).

Election 2016 was interesting in many ways. It was not only the third time in US history the candidate who won the presidency lost the popular vote, but 2016 marked the highest vote differential of the three (0.8%, 0.5%, 2.8%). What if Mr. Trump won the popular vote by 2.8% but Mrs. Clinton won the Electoral College? Surely the messages would be predictably reversed.

Since the election, we heard some voices declaring that it’s time to amend the Constitution to disband the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote. The losers were the complainers while the winners boosted about the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.

Framing the US Constitution was not a meeting of wise men stroking their beards while contemplating decisions for a document to serve as the foundation of a new country. Discussions were fierce. Egos were bruised. Not every person got their way but, in the end, a collective wisdom prevailed – a wisdom guided by those seeking what would serve the common good for all and for a nation.

Although small states and slave states had issues with the popular vote, the Founding Fathers were skeptical about the voters especially if the popular vote yielded an unwise decision. So, the Founding Fathers wanted a system to act as a check-and-balance on the voters. After all, the Constitution provided of system of checks and balances within the government. The Electoral College was a way to do so other than using state legislatures or the House of Representatives.

In Federalist Paper No. 68, Alexander Hamilton explained the Electoral College was to, “ensure that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” The best analogy I heard was the Electoral College being akin to a judge reviewing a jury’s decision (which they can do).

Was 2016 the time Alexander Hamilton had in mind? Maybe.

Is the Electoral College’s role as a check-and-balance against the people’s vote necessary in the 21st Century? Absolutely, so I unquestionably stand with the wisdom of the Founding Fathers supporting the existence of the Electoral College.

The Founding Fathers envisioned the Electoral College to be composed of people “selected by their fellow citizens from the general masses, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”

The Founding Fathers also envisioned the members of the Electoral College to do the right thing. To be of independent mind in the face of adversity. To represent a nation, and then fulfill their Constitutional responsibility by doing what is right for the nation.

If it’s not the voters, not the Constitution, not the concept of the Electoral College, is there a problem? If so, where?

The problem obviously lies is the implementation because the Constitution left the selection process to the states, which would be state legislatures that are elected by the people. Although practical on paper, the adopted methods by the states are not the way to implement the desires stated Federalist Paper No. 68. States developed processes based on the political parties – therefore the political parties hijacked the check and balance to have a system that favors them.

Who picks the electors? The political parties.

Who do the political parties select? Loyalists, local party leaders, local officials, donors,etc.

If each party in a state has electors, who has the final vote? In most states, the party of the presidential candidate who won the popular vote in that state become the electors.

Can electors change their mind, thus go against the state’s result? In some states, yes – but in most states, No! Electors who do not follow their prescribed vote may face fines, legal charges, dismissal, and/or replacement.

Are these electors the ones “most likely to possess the information and requisite for such a complicated investigation” and “free from any sinister bias”?

Absolutely not! The electors are party hacks put in place by the party hooligans to follow the party’s self interest – NOT for the people and NOT for a nation as the Federalist Paper clearly explains. The electors are present for the party under the ruse of acting for the nation. The Electoral College is not even remotely close to what the Founding Fathers envisioned for the nation and its people.

The parties are interested in themselves. The parties are interested in adopting their preferences upon the people. The parties only see the world through a biased lens with the settings they prefer. In other words, the parties are not the unbiased, high-minded people who will look out after the best interest of a nation if and when the people make a mistake!

In the farewell address of this nation’s first president, George Washington was correct.

[Political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

George Washington
Saturday, September 17, 1796

Abolition of the Electoral College is not the answer. Giving power the popular vote is not the answer. Reforming the Electoral College process is the answer, but there is a problem because that requires those with power would have to relinquish the power – and we know that’s not going to happen.

43 thoughts on “On an Electoral Reflection

  1. John,
    I was hoping you would see this post. As for as your conundrum, that’s easy … Obama was president at the time of the last election, so he is responsible. Plus, he had time as a Constitutional lawyer, and he didn’t change the implementation system.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoy your analysis quite a bit more than mine. I’ve often felt that the electoral college was a lot like playing Monopoly with too many house rules. Sounds like a decent plan before we start playing, but once the game is over, nearly everyone is going to complain that the game is rigged.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gabe,
      Thanks for the support. Because of the research I did for this, I understand the Electoral College now much more than I did in November, so this was good for me! … so I hope others because I’m confident most of us really don’t know.

      Good analogy with Monopoly. I was simply trying to identify the problem because finding the solution can only be done after identifying the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting post, Frank. It’s past my bedtime, so I’ll just say that I agree that I think I agree with you. I understand the reasoning behind the Electoral College, and also the realities of it. Reforming it may be the best thing, but it’s unlikely, as you suggest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merril,
      Knowing that US History is your specialty, I have a sense of relief of knowing that I have a good bit of accuracy here … although I also recognize that different conclusions can be drawn. Have a good night of sleep.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That is a fair analysis of the electoral college, Frank, and I agree with you. The process will be difficult to change, but I’m thinking that the 2016 election might spur the reform, sometime in a future administration. More immediately, I am downright fearful of the effect of fake news. Got any ideas what to do about that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim,
      Thanks for the kind words. We both know that change of any kind is difficult, especially if we are asking for 50 states to get together with the goal of changing their ways – let alone political parties involvement. On the other hand, if they had the will, they can find a way.

      In terms of fake news, it’s all done to justify one’s position while discrediting opponents. I guess the age old concept of winning at all cost fits.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m very happy to have your thoughtful analysis, Frank. You’ve helped me understand that the institution we accept today is a far cry from what the framers of the Constitution wanted for us. I’ve been “skunked” twice now with my candidate winning the popular vote and losing the presidency, so I tend to be a little bitter towards the Electoral College, but I like your suggestion that rather than abolish it, we need to reform it. And we didn’t even talk about super delegates! LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debra,
      Glad you enjoyed this little trip back in history. Interesting what one can see when examining the original source.

      I don’t see the discrepancy between the EC and the popular vote as being skunked because one of the aspects of the EC was to create a proportional weighting of the states. I get the rationale for the scoring (a topic in itself). However, 2016 I feel skunked because the EC is far from the original intent and in this post, I have identified why.

      In terms of the super delegates, they are OK because that’s a party thing for party purposes. Whether that’s OK or not is a matter for the party. Interestingly, the GOP also had them, but they call them something different and I believe there are few of them.


  6. Today’s post and the one you did last week about the life of Charles Darwin are prime examples of why your blog remains part of my essential reading. Before adding my two cents to your beautifully written 98 cents, I look forward to seeing more comments from your readers (and your replies) to go along with the fascinating ones I read this morning. In addition, I plan to take out my Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton to re-examine the history-context (and application to the present occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.) behind your paragraph –

    “In Federalist Paper No. 68, Alexander Hamilton explained the Electoral College was to, “ensure that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” The best analogy I heard was the Electoral College being akin to a judge reviewing a jury’s decision (which they can do).”

    . . . . and also your statement –

    “Not every person got their way but, in the end, a collective wisdom prevailed – a wisdom guided by those seeking what would serve the common good for all and for a nation.”

    P.S. Thanks for including the link to Federalist Paper No. 68 for quick reference.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As usual, you’ve given a fresh analysis from a moderate perspective that leaves us wondering, “Why isn’t anyone else saying this?”

    To play devil’s advocate — I remember when I first learned about the electoral college’s original purpose in school, I was fearful. It sounded suspiciously like a set-up for an oligarchy — a small group of people with TRUE power of election, whilst The People had only an illusion of power (I was a pretty deep 9th grader, it seems…). My teacher reassured me that in reality we’ve ended up checking their powers by bounding them, in essence, to the will of the people.

    So, my question is, if we were to truly reform the electoral college (which, in my view, we obviously do), how would you propose we check and balance their power as they check and balance ours?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alisha!
      Great to see you once again!!! Hope life is going well for you.

      I know you are a thinker, so I appreciate your thoughts. You ask about possible solutions. The focus of this post is to identify the problem, not to determine the solution … but (of course) I’ve thought about it. However, I’m sure there are other possible solutions that are in my head at the moment. You have asked a great question, but I will delay answering it because I prefer to toss solutions into a separate post.

      So tell me … how are you doing?


      • Delays of solutions! How will we cope until then? 😀

        I am well, thanks for asking. I’m back in Atlanta near family and landed a dream job as a (this shouldn’t surprise you) business analyst. I get to play with spreadsheets and graphs all day and take/encourage action based on what I find, so I’m a happy camper 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • LOL …. Of course this post won’t spark a national movement – let alone solutions. Another question: Is not reforming the EC grounds for getting rid of it?

          Business analyst is perfect for you. I image a sign at your desk … Bring on the numbers! Congratulation!!!!


  8. I agree with your premises that the EC was meant to be a check on popular vote picking an unqualified candidate, and that in the current two-party system, it no longer works. But my conclusion is still that we don’t need it – if it’s both undemocratic and doesn’t even work as intended (both of which were at once proven by the 2016 election), why do even need it? Or, if it does actually work as intended with the non-partisan electoral college actually picking the best candidate regardless of the popular vote results, why do we even need to hold the popular election?
    If the EC were to actually ensure that a qualified candidate becomes president, why not just make EC vet the candidates prior to the election, when they file for candidacy, not after the election is completed?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. X,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your premise falls apart very early because we don’t live and in a democracy – the US is a republic – even a democratic republic is a suitable term. You are also missing the conditional statement where the EC is called upon to act in the best interest of the nation if the people’s choice is in question. Is Bush-Gore the same situation as Trump-Clinton? Meanwhile, the people deserve a say and need a check-and-balance. Besides, if Trump won the popular vote and Clinton won the EC, would you still take the same stance that you have since November? I know I can confidently say mine would be the same.


    • I honestly don’t know what my stance would be if the popular and EC winners would be reversed, but I would be more comfortable with Trump being the president when he’s the candidate who won the most votes.
      I realize that the US is technically not a democracy but a democratic republic. However, when we elect a president, we cast a vote for the person we wish to see as the president (or find that person as slightly less terrible choice than anyone else :). We do not vote for the electors, however, and have no way to affect the election of the electors other than picking the party that would be doing the electing. So, what really happens is that we the people vote for the presidential candidates, and then a group of other people we haven’t voted for – certainly not to entrust them with electing the president – are the ones electing the president, because they have the right to override the popular vote. This is not a democratic election by any means, and this is the country where the people are apparently trusted to elect every other high level elected official (congressmen, Senators, governors) by direct democratic election.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The truest value is the one that one selects when facing a decision, and reversing the 2016 situation didn’t happen – so I can accept you not knowing.

        However, a couple of points. When you vote for a president, you are casting a vote for the electors for that candidate in your state. For some reason I think some states may include the electors on the ballot, but I know that’s not the case in my state and it doesn’t seem in yours.

        In normal election years, being an elector would be easy. However, 2016 at least raises a question that the Electoral College could consider. In other words, although Clinton won the popular vote, and Trump the initial EC vote, the EC could have elected someone else if they deemed it necessary … or at least create a situation where the election gets tossed the House.

        Yes, we have direct election of everyone else, but everyone else is not its own branch of government for the nation.


  10. Frank,

    You did your homework and then some on this, young man. I felt simpatico with you some time ago, but never so much as in this piece. A great piece. All hell broke loose in our state (PA) with the electors feeling as if they were in actual physical danger. Which is the kind of nostalgia that should come part and parcel with a duel at twenty paces.

    Where DOES the change come from? And how’s the real estate outlook in Greenland? I know the weather ain’t easy, but it might be the only patch of green we can count on before too much longer if things keep on keeping on.

    Great piece of writing, Frank.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cayman,
      Thanks for the kind words. Research is so important, especially for a piece like this one. Gotta get the info straight!

      Threats against electors is ridiculous … crazy and unnecessary. Even though they are the party hacks, they didn’t deserve that treatment … and to think this happened in numerous states!

      Where does the change come from? Yep … the political parties … and they aren’t going to give up the power they have. Therefore, change would have to come from an overwhelming voice from the citizens … and that has less of a chance of happening. Definitely a sad state of affairs.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Resa,
      In terms of presidential elections, the Electoral College is fixable. The primary system isn’t based on the Constitution, so that’s another story – and the political parties would have to get that done …so that probably won’t get done. The government operation could use an overall, but the partisans would have to do that, so it won’t get done.


  11. Extremely well done Frank. I have been having this argument, more than I can account for since the election of our current POTUS. My bottom line is, you cannot change the system during an election season simply because you don’t like the outcome. Your analysis of the purpose, spot on. It is unfortunate so few people understand, or have even read, The Federalist Papers.

    I believe I entire system is broken. It isn’t just the Electoral College, it is the two party system and the power contained within those parties. In truth, the GOP actually did a better job this past season than the DNC, the results may not be too our liking but the process was better with 17 candidates and a free for all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Val,
      I’m glad you came over for this because I had the feeling you would like it. Besides, I always enjoy your take.

      The entire system needs a wake-up call, but finding a place to start would be a monumental task on its own!

      As many Dems were pointing fingers anywhere besides themselves about the results, they won’t admit they did a lousy job.


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